Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer
It can be upsetting for you, your family, and other loved ones to learn that breast cancer has moved into other areas of the body. But there are ways to ensure that you enjoy quality of life. Here are some strategies on how to manage feelings, get support, figure out how to talk about the diagnosis with family and friends, and work after being diagnosed.
Managing your feelings about metastatic breast cancer
Regardless of whether metastatic breast cancer is a first diagnosis or a recurrence, it’s normal for people to feel angry, scared, stressed, outraged, depressed, or calm. You may question the treatments you’ve had, feel mad at your doctors, or be prepared to deal with the diagnosis in a matter-of-fact way. There is no right or wrong way to come to terms with a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis.
Many people find it helps to concentrate on understanding the diagnosis, learning all they can about different treatment options, and taking the time to get second opinions. Information can give people a feeling of control, which can help them manage any fears they may have.
“Loss of control is a huge issue for women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer,” said Musa Mayer, author of Advanced Breast Cancer: A Guide to Living with Metastatic Disease and patient advocate. “The process of gathering information and learning about the disease and treatment can be very stabilizing and help women feel more in control.”
A number of people diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer have said thinking about the future frightens them because they’re not sure what is going to happen. Some feel that living in the moment and living life to the fullest helps them deal with the fear and stress of an advanced cancer diagnosis. Having a goal or hobby can be a welcome diversion — you can focus on something besides the cancer and live outside yourself for a little while. There are many things that can help maintain a feeling of being in the present moment. Examples include spending time with loved ones, making art, journaling, listening to music, or having a pet. Achieving small, daily successes that build toward a larger goal also can offer comfort and stability.
Some people with metastatic breast cancer may feel the urge to withdraw from social connection. But in interviews and publications, many people who are living with metastatic breast cancer have said that distancing themselves from loved ones wasn’t very helpful in dealing with their diagnosis.
Still, it’s important to remember that everyone deals with fear and stress differently. Coming to terms with the diagnosis takes time and is different for everyone.
Connect with others who have been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.
Protecting your well-being after a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis
After a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, it may feel difficult to maintain a positive outlook. While feelings of fear or apprehension are completely normal, it’s also important to know that advanced breast cancer treatments can be very successful and new treatments are being developed and tested all the time.
Still, cancer treatment isn’t just about what’s happening on a physical level — it’s also about your emotional well-being, and the best treatment plan addresses both. It’s important to find ways to relieve your stress and ease any fears you might have. If you feel stressed and afraid, here are some tips that can help improve your mood and make you feel more calm, relaxed, and hopeful:
take a walk
write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal
meditate or pray
do exercises to completely relax your muscles (progressive muscle relaxation)
talk with a counselor, social worker, or psychologist about your feelings
join a support group
become a part of an online community, such as the Breastcancer.org discussion boards
do yoga or gentle stretching
listen to soothing music
express yourself through art
have fun with friends — go to the movies or invite a friend over for coffee and talk about a book you’ve both read
Learn more about complementary and holistic medicine techniques, such as journaling, meditation, prayer, and progressive muscle relaxation.
Read more about protecting your well-being after a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis:
Getting emotional support after a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis
Most people find it helpful to talk openly about any fears, worries, or frustrations they may have while living with breast cancer. While some people choose to confide in friends and family members, others may prefer to talk in a cancer support group setting — either in person or online. In either setting, you can talk with other women facing similar challenges and get firsthand advice about managing side effects, fear, and stress.
If support groups don’t appeal to you, you may want to talk to an expert in cancer care such as an oncology social worker, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a counselor. Your medical team can probably recommend someone or help point you in the right direction.
Many people get emotional support and strength from their faith. You may find comfort in praying and talking to members or leaders of your spiritual community. If you need help finding faith-based support, many hospitals have a chaplain who helps guide people of all faiths to nearby organizations.
You also might need some support at home and at work. Some treatments can make you feel tired and unable to do some of your usual activities. Let people who care about you help out with daily chores or tasks:
Friends can fill your refrigerator with prepared meals for days when your energy is low and can help out with shopping, carpooling, or childcare.
Your co-workers and supervisors may help shift workloads so you can reduce your responsibilities or work from home.
Community organizations, religious groups, and cancer advocacy groups often have volunteers who can help with childcare, meals, or other daily needs.
Read more about getting emotional support after a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis:
Talking to family and friends about metastatic breast cancer
Telling your loved ones about a recurrence of breast cancer may be more difficult than it was telling them about the original diagnosis. If this is a first diagnosis and it’s metastatic, telling friends and family can also be extremely challenging. You may be concerned about upsetting your family and friends or worried about how they will react. Even after you’ve shared the news, you may find it difficult to communicate openly at times. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to ask for help, answer questions about how you’re doing, or tell well-meaning relatives and friends that you need some time and space for yourself.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you’re always in control of the conversation. It’s entirely up to you how much information you want to share.
Working after a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis
The effect of a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer on work life is different for every person. You may have an understanding supervisor, a flexible schedule, and an encouraging team to support you. Or you may have questions about how best to manage treatment and work. Some women may wonder if they should be working at all. Others may feel the need to work because they’re concerned about paying for treatment.
“In working with people living with stage IV disease, there’s a constant conversation and struggle about whether to work or not,” says Rosalind Kleban, licensed clinical social worker who serves as administrative supervisor for psychosocial programs and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center in New York City. “Part of the discussion that leans toward working is that it very often acts as a distraction, a way to be involved in things and people outside of the illness. I think that both sides of the equation should be looked at very seriously because work has some value for all of us — including people with an illness.”
Ultimately you have to do what is right for you, your lifestyle, and your family. There is no one best way to manage the emotional, physical, and legal aspects of balancing your job and your treatment.
Learn more general information about breast cancer and your job.
Read more specific information about working with metastatic breast cancer:
— Last updated on June 29, 2022, 3:03 PM